- Associated Press - Saturday, July 19, 2014

WINFIELD, Kan. (AP) - A treasure trove of Winfield history was recently discovered in the dilapidated two-story building at 1307 Main, just north of the Dawson Monument Company.

Realtors Jeff Albright and Jeff Everhart found a trunk upstairs full of records and memorabilia from the former black Masonic lodge here. They also found the lodge’s gavel.

The Albright Investment Company had bought the building at a sheriff’s sale. “We were just cleaning out the building,” Jeff Albright told the Winfield Daily Courier (https://bit.ly/1mnKIBJ). Meetings of the lodge were held on the second floor. Frazier’s Grocery store was on the ground floor, according to Pat Crawford, a member of the related Eastern Star chapter.

The trunk included ledgers, minutes, documents and photographs from the Walnut Valley Lodge No. 55, Ancient and Free Accepted Masons. On Monday, those records were turned over to the Cowley County Historical Museum.

Museum board member and local historian Jerry Wallace coordinated the transfer of the records and organized the presentation. He called the records “most important” to Winfield history, of which he is an avid student. The documents indicate “the success and high standing of the Winfield lodge,” Wallace said.

The first recorded meeting of the lodge took place on April 21, 1898. Early trustees were D.E. Douglas, J.E. Monroe and Granderson Brandy. There were 27 charter members, each required to pay dues of 35 cents ($9.65 today) at each weekly meeting. Later the lodge met bi-monthly or monthly, according to a brief history presented by Wallace.

Meetings usually consisted of rituals and instruction in Masonry, educational lectures and refreshments, with occasional entertainment, perhaps provided by the ladies of the Eastern Star.

In its heyday, the Winfield lodge hosted a gathering of individual chapters of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Kansas, the organization of black Masonic lodges in the state. The event took place Aug. 20-21, 1917. An estimated 200 Masons attended from around the state.

Winfield’s mayor hosted the attendees at city hall, and an evening meeting took place at the Second Baptist Church, according to an article published in the Winfield Daily Courier. Charles Porter of Atchison presided as grand commander over this annual Grand Lodge gathering.

Bill Brooks, the last superintendent of Winfield State Hospital & Training Center, is believed to be the lone surviving member of the Winfield lodge. He joined it in the 1970s, he recalled, when only a few members remained active.

Among those members were Bill Davis, Welcome Nichols, Alvin Smith and Bill Willingham, Brooks recalled. “I think they were all 50-year members.” Davis also headed the Winfield American Legion post. As the years passed, the Winfield lodge, along with those in Arkansas City and El Dorado, held more of their meetings and events in Wichita, where the black lodge remained stronger.

Belonging to the lodge was demanding and expensive, Brooks said. There were dues, dress clothes to buy and trips to take. If one went on to become a Shriner, as he did, there was a fez and other regalia to buy.

But the trips could be exciting. Brooks and his wife, Sue Jean, traveled to New York City for a Shrine convention, and Sue Jean still fondly remembers bumping into famous black singer Marvin Gaye in a hotel elevator near Rockefeller Center and taking his picture.

The Walnut Valley lodge, called “the Blue Lodge,” had, from an early time, a partner inManilla Chapter 22 of the Order of Eastern Star. That group of women had its own rituals and hierarchy. In order to belong, one had to be a spouse or a sibling of a Mason, according to Sue Jean Brooks.

A high-ranking male Mason could be a member of the Eastern Star. Wallace believes the word “Manilla” probably related to the U.S. war in the Phillipines that took place about the time the chapter was organized.

Leaders of the Winfield lodge and its chapter of the Order of Eastern Star went on to high offices in state organizations, according to Pat Crawford, who was at the Monday presentation, and the Brookses, who were invited, and interviewed but could not attend. Davis, in particular, was active at the state level, they said. In the Eastern Star, both Pauline Nichols and Pat Crawford were Grand Worthy Matrons, Pat Crawford recalled.

Black Masons in Kansas got to know each other well at district and state gatherings, of which there were many. Going to the Grand Lodge in Kansas City, Topeka or Wichita was a big event each year.

Clayton Crawford, Pat’s son, who also attended the Monday gathering, was active in the lodge as a youth. It was the only civic organization in Winfield open to blacks in the 1960s, he recalled.

While white Winfield Masons had DeMolay for boys and the white Eastern Star had Rainbow for girls, “We weren’t invited,” Clayton Crawford said. The Walnut Valley Lodge was a place where black people could pursue the kind of fellowship and leadership development other Masons did.

“It was kind of a semi-religious, social organization for the people who didn’t want to hang out at the bar,” Clayton Crawford said of the Walnut Valley Lodge. He added he was grateful to receive a scholarship from the lodge.

An example of youth leadership training for blacks was the Pauline L. Nichols Youth Fraternity No. 1, led by Nichols herself. The Brooks children, who studied stringed instruments, took part; and the Crawford young people, who sang and played woodwinds, did as well. Clayton Crawford said he became a Grand Prince Patron when he was part of the group.

Pauline Nichols was the daughter-in-law of George Nichols, a charter member of the lodge, who was the black constable who brought down Gilbert Twigg after he shot and killed six people. The Twigg “massacre” took place in 1903 during a concert of the Camen Band at Ninth and Main.

As its stalwarts aged, the Walnut Valley lodge wound down, closing sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s. No one at the Monday presentation could remember the exact date. The black Eastern Star chapter persisted a bit longer with Pauline Nichols and Mattie Phillips working to keep it alive, Pat Crawford said.

Hazel Carter of Arkansas City was also active in the Manilla Chapter in those late years, Sue Jean Brooks recalled. There was a black Masonic lodge in Arkansas City even before Winfield’s. Meridian Lodge No. 32 in Arkansas City opened in July 1887, according to Wallace.

Sue Jean Brooks taught tole painting at Bones N’ Things, a craft and antique shop, in the building at 1307 Main for several years after the lodge disbanded.

Cowley County Historical Museum directors who attended the Monday presentation included Beverly Johnson, Cheri Nichols, Cindy Goertz, president Dave Hudson and Wallace. Former president Roland Mueller also attended, as did Shirley Everhart.

Although the roof of the building at 1307 Main has collapsed and the back wall is mostly fallen, Albright said the investment company has no plans to demolish the historic structure.

“In fact, we’re renovating the building,” Albright said. Albright said the exterior will be restored along with most of the inside.

“We plan to do the basics inside,” Albright said, “but leave some of the details so that whoever purchases the building can continue to finish it to whatever best suits their needs.”


Information from: The Winfield (Kan.) Daily Courier, https://www.winfieldcourier.com/

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